Coffee Actually Helps Keep You Alive?

A new study posted yesterday claims that your daily coffee may, in fact, keep you living longer.

The study, which was posted in the journal Circulation, states that those who drink three to five cups of coffee a day, decaf included, have a 15 percent lower risk of premature death. Dr. Ming Ding of the Department of Nutrition of Harvard School of Public Health was the brains behind the study. She and her colleagues concluded that “higher consumption of total coffee, caffeinated coffee, and decaffeinated coffee was associated with lower risk of total mortality.”

In order to determine accurately how coffee had an effect on health, Ding and her colleagues only took into consideration the study subjects who had reported that they were non-smokers. Once they cut out those who were smokers, they were able to better understand the role coffee plays in a lower risk of mortality. Also, it was noted that excessive intake of caffeine was a factor. Research has shown that 400 mg of caffeine per day is generally the limit for caffeine intake; anything greater can interfere with sleep and create “feelings of unease.” One study claimed that 200 mg is the “optimal” amount of caffeine if you are looking for enhanced cognitive function and a better mood. For Ding’s study, decaf coffee also showed the link between drinking and lower mortality rates.

Ding’s study was large: there were over 200,000 women and 50,000 men involved. Those who were participating were periodically given food questionnaires and followed for up to 30 years. During the trial, over 30,000 participants died.

“In our study, we found people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didn’t drink coffee,” says another study author, nutrition researcher Dr. Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health.

What does the drop in risk of premature death entail, exactly? And how can coffee help so much?

“The lower risk of mortality is consistent with our hypothesis that coffee consumption could be good for you (because) we have published papers showing that coffee consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes and (heart) disease,” said Ding. She went on to state that it’s the ingredients in the coffee that matter: coffee contains lignans and chlorogenic acid, both of which can reduce inflammation and help control blood sugar. Those two actions alone can help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease isn’t the only issue that can be prevented. There is between a nine and 36 percent decrease in the risk of neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia. It also seems to show a 20 to 36 percent decrease in suicide risk, but Ding explains that it isn’t clear whether the chemicals in coffee affect mental health, or if coffee drinkers have other factors that contribute to a lower suicide rate. Coffee can also affect liver health by blocking “liver scarring, fat deposition, and cancer.”

Previous studies have suggested that drinking coffee could protect against cancers such as prostate and liver, but this study did not find lower rates of cancer deaths among coffee drinkers.
[Photo by Joe Raedle for Getty Images][/caption]

As for those who don’t smoke: non-smokers who drink more than five cups a day had a mortality risk 12 percent lower than non-drinkers. Non-smokers who drank the three to five cups a day had a 15 percent lower mortality risk than non-drinkers.

In a conversation with NPR, Willett weighed in on why he thinks coffee is related to these benefits.

“We’re not sure exactly how coffee is [linked] to all these benefits. The coffee bean itself is loaded with many different nutrients and phytochemicals. And my guess is that they’re working together to have some of these benefits. We [see] similar benefits from caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. That’s important, because it suggests that caffeine is not responsible for [the benefit].”

So what does Willett say to those who rely on their morning cup of coffee?

“I think if people like coffee, it’s fine to include it [as part of your daily habit]. So, certainly, [people] should not feel guilty about moderate coffee consumption. It definitely can be part of a healthy lifestyle. I wouldn’t suggest that someone who doesn’t like coffee go out and drink it.”

[Featured image by Sean Gallup for Getty Images]